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Collin County DA struggling to hire entry-level prosecutors

mckinney_april_2017_027__historic_collin_county_courthouse_.jpg
Michael Barera
/
Wikimedia Commons
Collin County is struggling to fill entry-level prosecutor jobs in the district attorney's office.

The Collin County District Attorney’s Office is having trouble filling entry level prosecutor roles — and the DA said the current salaries for those roles are putting the county at a competitive disadvantage.

Right now, seven of the 12 misdemeanor prosecutor positions at the Collin County DA’s office are open. Misdemeanor prosecutors are typically recent law school graduates. Greg Willis, the county’s DA, said other counties are also having trouble hiring people for those entry level prosecutor positions. So, they’re raising their salaries.

To compete with other counties, Willis said Collin needs to follow suit and raise its salaries for those jobs. Otherwise, new law school graduates with student loan debts won’t be able to afford to start their career in Collin County.

“It becomes quite a disadvantage, regardless of how wonderful our county is, for students with lots of loans, law school debt, to start here,” Willis said.

The average salary for a misdemeanor prosecutor in the most recent fiscal year was $65,025, according to data from the Collin County Human Resources Department.

The HR department compared that salary rate to salaries from nine other counties, including Dallas and Tarrant counties, and the state of Texas. The average salary for those was $64,492, putting Collin County above average.

But Willis said those numbers don’t necessarily reflect actual compensation. He said entry level prosecutors in Tarrant County end up making 10% more than the minimum starting salary, which Collin County HR data lists as an average of $61,451 annually.

“They're above us,” the DA said about Tarrant County’s actual pay rates. “Then all of a sudden, we're below average.”

The Collin DA said there are smaller counties that aren’t included in HR’s data that offer as much as $90,000 for misdemeanor prosecutors.

Salary rates aren’t the only thing impacting staffing numbers at the Collin County DA’s office. Prosecutors also are leaving the DA’s office for other positions. According to HR data, the projected turnover for 2022 is 22% for attorneys. That’s up from a 12.5% turnover rate in 2021.

Cynthia Jacobson, Collin County’s director of Human Resources, said about 74% of the turnover in the DA’s office within the past five years was people leaving for another job. But even though the turnover rate for attorneys has gone up, Jacobson said she’s not concerned.

“The turnover does not bother me,” she said. “You can see it's actually been fairly stable.”

Collin County Judge Chris Hill said the natural progression of the careers of beginning prosecutors in the DA’s office is either getting promoted or leaving to go into private or corporate practice. If the 74% leaving are following that natural progression, Hill said he’s not concerned.

What would be cause for alarm, he said, is if they’re leaving for the same position they already have in another county.

Jacobson said getting people leaving the DA’s office to do exit interviews has been a challenge, so she doesn’t have exact numbers on why people left. However, she said she believes most people left to go into private practice.

Overall, Jacobson said the staffing issues in the DA’s office isn’t unusual. Rather, she said it’s the nature of the current job market and the low unemployment level.

“There are about two job openings for everybody looking for a job right now,” she said.

Got a tip? Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Caroline at  clove@kera.org. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @carolinelove37.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.